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Chamber urges common federal, state, local reopening guideline

Firms seek to avoid too many standards

Businesses operating under different government jurisdictions fear varying reopening standards.
Businesses operating under different government jurisdictions fear varying reopening standards. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a call to federal, state and local leaders on Tuesday to devise common guidelines to facilitate a safe and smooth reopening of the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the chamber, said in a call with reporters that such a “best practices” approach to reopening would work better than a regulation-based approach that saddled companies operating across state boundaries with a variety of requirements on issues such as distancing in restaurants or customer entry checks in retail stores. 

“Businesses want to do this right,” Bradley said. “They absolutely want to figure out how they can bring their employees and customers back safely. But a regulatory approach, even of a temporary nature, that is more rules-based and less flexible to the differences that exist in each workplace just won’t allow them to do that.”

Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said that local chambers will work with state and local governments to drive home the same message.

“We know as we all follow the data, especially the health data, we know that the right way to do this is to have a common framework from the White House to the governors, from the governors to the mayors,” Wilson said.

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The chamber wrote to President Donald Trump, the National Governors Association, the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Tuesday proposing such a coordinated approach.

“We do expect some variation, but to the extent that variation can be minimized, it really is going to help employers reopen and instill confidence in employees and consumers that folks are doing it the right way and following the best guidelines,” Bradley said.

“Not only do I believe that can work, but we are seeing that work with the essential businesses open now,” Bradley said. “Essential businesses that are open now have figured out the right way, in their particular footprint, given how their business is situated, to be able to maintain some social distancing without the typical kind of governmental approach of,  ‘Here’s a rule book, and here’s the right way to place it, and here’s every factor for every iteration.’”

Yet he acknowledged, in response to a reporter’s question about COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants, that the record on workplace safety was mixed.

“The truth is that there is no system of guidance or regulation that is perfect. I’ll tell you that we hear from businesses, not only do they want to do the right thing, to protect their employees and to protect their customers, they know they are incentivized to do the right thing,” Bradley said. “Invariably, there’s going to be a place that didn’t get it right.”

He cautioned that the chamber’s call for common guidelines does not mean a standard nationwide deadline for reopening.  

“I think it’s important to differentiate between a common standard and a common start,” he said. “We recognize that reopening is going to be based on local conditions on the ground. And it’s going to be driven by data.”

But reopening in each state will be smoother if companies are able to work from common guidance on issues like employer responsibility to require the wearing of masks or proper standards for assessing what level of building occupancy is consistent with social distancing, Bradley said.

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